March 10, 2015.
New York City says fucking watch your back.
I need a new coat. Yes. That might not strike you as particularly interesting. Wait. Listen. This one is a blue kashmir woolen one. Really nice, but it doesn’t protect me from the snow and wind. I also have a creeping suspicion my physical integrity is at risk. You have to know, Brooklyn is crammed with invisible lines between wealthy and poor, between jaded little rich boys and washed up survivors, between ultrasafe and grim places. Lines between worlds are not fixed, they move with time and it is up to you to find out where they lie. This coat makes me feel like a moving target. Taking a wrong turn could be fucking fatal.
I buy a red-brown leather jacket with huge epaulettes in a thrift shop close to the L train Montrose stop. Trying on new shoes, head to the ground, I suddenly perceive a pair of sensuous black feet in high heels, walking straight up to me.
“Let’s see if these start hurting”, a deep voice says. I look up. He’s black, tall and slim, dressed in a sharp leather jacket. He takes a feminine turn to the right. His friend, a mammoth rastafari with a big belly and dreadlocks down to his ankles nodds “Right. I’ll be waitin’ here.”
The room next to rap school is only mine for three weeks so I need to find another place – hence the need for the red-brown jacket. It’s the perfect disguise between the city’s brownstone houses. The thugs won’t even see me. I spend hours every night searching for nice places, at somewhat acceptable prices. It turns out to be far from easy.
I run into the underground and I’m met with a loud female roar. A group of screaming women – almost all of them black – on the landing of Union Square station. To a funky tune, with a Betty Davis attitude, the slim tall guy I had spotted in the thrift shop is now dancing away in a short fluorescent green dress, on high heels. The female roar climaxes when the man reclines, on the floor, shamelessly spreading his legs, pulling up the dress, revealing the curly black pubic hair around his protruding balls in a red tanga.
The train awaits me downstairs. I slip in. “Please stand clear of the closing doors!”, the voice of an actor instructed to sound like a small town sheriff echoes through the speakers. Doors close.
“I command you Satan!”, a deep black voice shouts from the other side of the overcrowded wagon, “In the name of the Lord…to take up your weapens and flee! For the Lord has given me authority to walk all over thee. Lord, bestow upon me these powers. For we are all sinners! Back off, Lucifer.” Silence. That was all het wanted to let us know.
The train stops and half of the commuters get off. I sit down on an emptied spot. Doors close.
“Dear ladies and gentlemen”, a white woman in the beginning of her thirties takes place in the middle of the steel wagon, and shouts, “My name is Martha Lewis and I am a single mother. The reason I am talking to you is because I never had health insurance. I needed to be operated nine times because I was brutally beaten, abused, tortured and locked up against my will by my ex-husband. My legs were broken four times and my ribs three times. As you can see, I still bear the scars of his violence on my face and all over my body, as a constant reminder of what I went through. But the US government will not help me pay back the hospital bills. I will have to pay off the debt until the end of my life. Please, ladies and gentlemen, could you show some kindness? A dollar, even a penny can help. Thank you for your kindness and God bless you.” Terrified by her testimony, I quickly pull out two dollars. Humming a happy song, she pulls them out of my hand at the end of her round and walks out.
Three black boys with a ghettoblaster walk in.
“Alright people, this is show time, show time, show time!”, the one with dreadlocks shouts. “Get ready people. Are you ready for showtiiime?”
“Yes!”, I shout.
I am the only one. The words echo on through the wagon. Other passengers stare at the floor. “Here we go!”, the leader of the packs shouts. He puts on deafening techno music and his smallest friend starts doing backward saltos through the wagon. He jumps up, kicks his feet through the metal bars under the roof and walks through the wagon head down.
“Wow. Did you see that? This guy! He’s amazing! Everybody clap!”, the leader feigns excitement to get the crowd going. No one reacts.
The second kid – short, muscled and strangely bloodshot eyes – follows with a pole dance, putting one of his feat behind his head, balancing his red hat on the tip of his finger while whirling around the pole.
“Oh my God! Have you ever seen that?”, the leader shouts, “Come one folks, give’m a hand!”
I am the only one willing to pay for the spectacle. The boys – clearly disappointed – change trains at the next stop.
“Please stand clear of the closing doors”, the sherrif says. A black, blind man with a sweet smile makes his way across the speeding wagon, from pole to pole, carrying packs of roses and tulips. “Flower power”, he says with a voice full of sweet soul, “beautiful flowers for beautiful people – tha’ means you. Flower power. Buy one of my flowers and feel its powers. Flower Power. Beautiful flowers for…you know who. Alright.”
I notice something. The further we go, the less whites stay on the train. The Asians disappear as well, as do the Hispanics. Everyone is black now. Except for me. And a Native American on the bench on the other side. He’s wrinkled. Torn brown hat and unraveling shoes. He is old, homeless and drunk. Delirious. Talking to himself.
Each train station is emptier, dirtier and darker than the last.
To be continued…